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6 Unintentionally Eco-Friendly Memberships

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Sign right up and reap the eco-friendly rewards from these not-strictly-green clubs, organizations, and services.


I’m a joiner. I have a wallet full of membership cards, frequent-shopper cards, and those little cards where you get a hole punch every time you get a cup of coffee, and eventually you’ll get a free cup.

But my favorite organizations and clubs to join are those that help me be a little greener — and there are plenty of them out there, whether it’s a club or a group, a service, or a subscription. The sneaky thing about them? They don’t scream “green”; they just are.

Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Libraries: Get a library card! Libraries are probably just about as old as books themselves, and if you think about it, they’re one of the greenest organizations out there — instead of purchasing new books, hundreds of people can read the same book, which can ultimately lead to the reduction of paper waste, ink usage, and energy expended from printing books and shipping them to bookstores. Even better, libraries come with the most personal of search engines: Librarians who can help you pick out the best books for you. In many cases, new libraries are even being built with environmentally responsible features.

2. Car Share Programs: If you live in a city and you’re thinking of getting rid of your car, a car-sharing service like Zipcar or Enterprise CarShare might help ease the transition. Zipcar claims that after joining its service, 90% of its members drove 5,500 miles or less per year, amounting to 219 fewer gallons of crude oil used per member1. Car sharing makes sense: It has the potential to reduce the number of cars being manufactured, and encourages people to limit the time they’re in the car, since they’re renting by the hour.

3. Community Garden Plots. Joining, or even helping to start, a community garden is beneficial to both you and the environment on so many levels. These gardens can help beautiful and strengthen a community by turning an abandoned lot or an ugly corner into something well-maintained that everyone can take ownership of. Environmentally, a planted garden can help reduce erosion and runoff and can improve air quality. Plus, the food that you harvest is about as locally-grown as it gets, which is always a benefit to the environment.

4. Food Co-ops: A food co-op is like a supermarket, but it is owned and run by its members. The power of the membership enables the members to have the buying power to get good prices on the food it sells. But more importantly, the membership can choose the quality and origins of the products it carries. Many coops emphasize GMO-free, organic, locally-grown foods, and some have even chosen not to sell meat. They also often sell goods in bulk, which reduces packaging waste, and encourage other environmental habits like using reusable bags. By joining a co-op that has values you agree with, you can help support their causes.

5. Digital Magazines: If you can’t give up your monthly magazine habit, consider taking it digital to reduce paper and ink waste and minimize resources used in mailing individual issues. Most magazines have digital issues that can be read on a computer, e-reader or tablet, and there are some companies that give you access to dozens of magazine titles for one monthly fee — my favorite is NextIssue.

6. Toy Rental Services: In my household, I sometimes feel like we’re drowning in toys! All that plastic adds up, and while I do make an effort to donate the outgrown stuff to charity, sometimes stuff ends up in the garbage if it’s broken or missing pieces. A toy rental service like Sparkbox Toys, however, is a great solution to families who want high-quality toys but feel guilty about buying more stuff. You get an age-appropriate box of toys to play with for a month or longer, and then you can send them back for a box of new-to-you toys. Sparkbox Toys specifically chooses environmentally-responsible manufacturers, uses earth-safe sanitation products, and renewable packaging.

What organizations or services have you signed up for, that also help the environment? Share your favorites in the comments below!
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Jessica Harlan

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Every Monday, I'll be here to share one, two, three… sometimes even ten! eco-friendly ideas at a time, so we can all do a little bit to save the Earth.

When I'm not making lists, I'm taking care of my two daughters, volunteering in my community, and writing articles about food and cooking — I'm the author of three cookbooks: Ramen to the Rescue, Tortillas to the Rescue, and Quinoa Cuisine (co-written with Kelley Sparwasser), and my fourth, Homemade Condiments, will be available in Fall 2013.


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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan

I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same.

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  • Meg P. 1 year ago
    My daughter and grandson did a pet rental for 2 weeks. That was an excellent way to introduce the child to being responsible for a pet, in every way. Thought I would mention it, since it is somewhat like toy rental. :-)
  • Gina L. 1 year ago
    The only thing I worry about with used toys is germs. Make sure if you plan using this method you clean them well.
  • Kathy T. 3 years ago
    Unintentionaly green, I love it!!! I've got another one for you. I live in a city & I see many people feeding birds. They are keeping uneaten food out of landfills.
  • Clayton C. 3 years ago
    Do you have discount parking at the airport?
  • CHELSEA R. 3 years ago
    Well done :) I've been meaning to utilize my library more and this is a great excuse!
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